Topics in Byzantine Literary History

Level: 
Doctoral
Course Status: 
Elective
CEU credits: 
3
ECTS credits: 
6
Academic year: 
2007/2008
Academic year: 
2011/2012
Academic year: 
2012/2013
Semester: 
Fall
Start and end dates: 
19 Sep 2011 - 10 Dec 2011
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of Medieval Studies
Non-degree Specialization: 
SEMS—Specialization in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
Instructor(s): 
Niels Gaul
Additional information: 
Byzantine literature has rarely enjoyed a good press: “without any literary merit, without a public, without a drama, without historical accuracy, without a point”: perceived as “escapist,” “fantastic,” “always at least one stage removed from reality” etc. it was compelled to live in the shadow of its better-loved and better-researched sibling, ancient Greek literature. Only very recently have such verdicts yielded towards a more positive, historicizing assessment of Byzantine verse and prose. Over the past two decades, Byzantinist voices have begun to assert themselves more confidently, moving beyond the modern dictate of “originality” and promoting the appreciation of Byzantine rhetoric on its own terms: facilitated by the general recognition that most, if not all cultural production consists of an intricate web of quotations, re-appropriations and remodelling. A research seminar of this scope, covering some eleven hundred and fifty years, must by necessity be selective (“topics”). It offers five spot-lights on seminal “threshold” periods of Byzantine literary production and five spot- lights on current debates in scholarship, which seek to “add some flesh to the bones,” as it were.
Learning Outcomes: 
At doctoral level, the ability • to place source texts in a complex cultural and historical framework, to interpret them critically and independently and to reach a well-informed judgment about the multi-causal (societal, cultural, political, theological) processes of their production and material circulation (assessment: classroom discussions; thirty-minute presentation); • to place recent and current methodological approaches to medieval literature in the framework of twentieth and twenty-first century scholarly discourses (assessment: thirty-minute presentation); • to review secondary literature critically and to employ advanced skills such as analysis, synthesis and evalua- tion (assessment: ten-minute kick-off presentation); • to present ideas orally and take part in discussions in English (assessment: classroom discussions; oral presentations). At Master’s level, the ability • to place source texts in a complex cultural and historical framework, to interpret them critically and to reach a well-informed judgment about the multi-causal (societal, cultural, political, theological) processes of their production and material circulation (assessment: classroom discussions); • to place recent and current methodological approaches to medieval literature in the framework of twentieth and twenty-first century scholarly discourses; • to review secondary literature critically; • to present ideas orally and take part in discussions in English.
Assessment : 
Regular attendance (at least ten sessions out of twelve) is mandatory. Active participation in class discussions is invited and counts for 10 % of the grade. Doctoral students are expected to deliver two presentations during term time: 1/ a thirty-minute presentation of a literary historical case study (author-, genre-, text- and/or context-focused) based on extensive reading of sources—in the original or in translation—and secondary literature. This presentation must be supported (a) by a slideshow and (b) by a detailed and informative handout including excerpts from relevant source texts as well as relevant bibliography, to be submitted at least one week prior to the performance for discussion with the instructor (60 %). Students are encouraged to tie their contribution to their own field of research/interest. 2/ A ten-minute kick-off presentation introducing any of the topics in part II of the course based on the second- ary literature (although examples from the sources may, of course, be adduced) and supported by a detailed handout (further visualization optional) (20 %). The contribution of Master’s students can range from oral presentations (along the lines above, but shorter) via four response papers (c.1,250 words) throughout term to a research paper after the end of term (c.5,000 words including footnotes). Please make an appointment to discuss and fix the details.

Index of sessions

1/ Introduction / The “archive”—the sophists & the fathers

I. Chronological sessions: trends & developments
(format: lecture-cum-discussion)

2/ “Later” late antiquity, c.500–c.800:

— The last blossoming and collapse of polis-based paideia;
— One “F” and four “H’s”: florilegia; hagiography, hymnography, homiletics, historiography
— Imperial might contested

3/ The revival of paideia, c.800–c.950:

— Phase I: iconoclast–iconophile dialectics (astronomy, philosophy);
— Phase II: imperial ideology revamped (historiography, encyclopedic compilations)

4/ “Changing of the guard,” c.950–c.1080:

— The revival of paideia—phase III (ancient drama & rhetoric)
— New elites and the end of the “ancien régime”´

5/ Byzantium’s “epic age,” c.1080–c.1250:

— Subtleties of rhetoric: epic trends in historiography and epistolography; characterization; amphoteroglōssia

6/ New models of identification, c.1250–1453:

— Renaissances, sophistics, rhetor-kings & hesychasts
— “Vernacular” registers

II. Topical sessions: current debates & approaches
(format: seminar discussion)

7/ Manuscripts

8/ Mimēsis & memory

9/ Genres & genre-modulation, allegory, fiction & novelization

10/ Authors, authority & gender

11/ Performance

12/ Final discussion: How to study Byzantine literature, and how to write Byzantine literary history?

Course goals

The class seeks to offer an intensive, advanced-level introduction to Byzantine literature and to provide criteria of how to interpret and analyze this medieval literature critically and with attention to its historical and cultural conditions of production and circulation.

In the first part, the focus will be on the production of rhetorical texts of various genres in changing socio-historical settings: defining deuterosophistic rhetoric—and its Attic models—and patristic writings as the “archive” of Byzantine literature, the class shall survey the introduction of Christianity into public discourse; the construction and deconstruction of Christian imperial ideology; as well as issues of power/canonization (who decides what is writ- ten, read, performed, preserved), propaganda (who sings the emperor’s praises for which reasons?) and learning: how did Byzantine boys become accomplished rhetoricians, and why would they have wanted to compose rhetoric in an “artificial” sociolect (i.e, a socially conditioned form of language, as, e.,g., opposed to a dialect) imitating the ancient Attic dialect? Participants are asked to browse excerpts from the sources in translation and read recent schol- arship by means of preparation; at the beginning of every session, the instructor will provide a kick-off lecture summarizing the major trends and developments and presenting his ideas for discussion.

In the second part, the focus will move to recent and current debates in the field: kick-off lectures will now be presented by the participants. In this section, the focus is altogether more on recent and/or seminal secondary literature.

For the full syllabus and assigned readings, please consult e-learning.ceu.hu.